For the second season in succession, Borussia's U19s have earned themselves the chance to reach the UEFA Youth League round of 16 via the play-offs. They will be hoping their trip to Scottish champions Hibernian (Tuesday at 20:00 CET, live on BVB-TV) is not their final game on the international stage.
"We want to make a statement and go through," declared head coach Mike Tullberg. The fact that his team became one of only two Bundesliga clubs – alongside Eintracht Frankfurt – to make it through the winter in Europe's elite junior competition despite personnel problems and setbacks is "a huge achievement and makes us proud". BVB finished in second spot in the group behind Manchester City but above Sevilla and FC Copenhagen to reach the play-off round, where they will take on Hibernian – one of eight winners via the "Champions Path", a parallel UEFA competition involving U19 domestic champions whose first teams did not qualify for the Champions League.
Scottish champions Hibernian beat Norwegian outfit Molde in the first qualifying round (1,0, 1-2, 5-4 on penalties) and subsequently prevailed against Nantes (1-0, 2-1). "These results attest to Hibernian's quality. It'll be a meeting of equals," said Tullberg, visibly impressed by the footballing strength of the tradition-steeped club from the Scottish capital.
Borussia's successful coach was "full of excitement" after the draw. For Tullberg will be returning to a city in which he spent a year of his professional playing career, having laced his boots for Hibernian's local rivals Heart of Midlothian. "I have very fond memories of those months, of the warm and open people, even though I only made a few appearances due to my injuries," said the Dane, who was on loan from Reggina at the time.
"Hibernian's playing style is typically Scottish: physical, tough-tackling and with long balls. We all need to be very alert and prevent their direct counter-attacks to their quick and mobile strikers," said Tullberg in his analysis of the opposition's system and tactical setup. He is preparing his team meticulously for the match and even had the opportunity last week to field his probable Youth League XI in a friendly against the FC Utrecht U23s. With 60 minutes played and the scoreline at 0-0, Tullberg switched up almost the entire team. BVB ultimately suffered a 1-0 defeat. "This was a good and important test with a view to Hibernian," explained Tullberg.
Mike Tullberg is "optimistic"
While the Scots have already played a few competitive matches this year, captain Nnamdi Collins and his team-mates are going in cold. Their last Bundesliga outing came at the beginning of December. The Black & Yellows picked up some good results during their mid-season preparations, including a 2-1 win against a strong Nordsjaelland side. They especially impressed in defence and looked extremely solid. "We're getting a lot of things right, implementing what we're working on in training and having great moments in possession, but we're still missing a dash of decisiveness and efficiency in the penalty box. We've worked on that specifically in recent days," reported Tullberg.
He will be bolstering his team with players from the U23 squad for the trip to the 20,000-capacity Easter Road Stadium. He will however be without left-back Tom Rothe, who is no longer eligible to play in the UEFA Youth League following his brief appearances in the Champions League. "Nonetheless, I am optimistic," said Tullberg, striking a confident tone. Last season, BVB qualified for the UEFA Youth League round of 16 courtesy of a 5-3 victory over Empoli. The U19s will be delighted if they can replicate that feat in Edinburgh. (wiwi)